Mission San Francisco Solano (California)

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Mission San Francisco Solano
Mission San Francisco Solano
Mission San Francisco Solano circa 1910
Mission San Francisco Solano (California) is located in California
Mission San Francisco Solano (California)
Location of Mission San Francisco Solano in California
Location 114 East Spain Street
Sonoma, California 95476
Coordinates 38°17′38″N 122°27′21″W / 38.29389°N 122.45583°W / 38.29389; -122.45583Coordinates: 38°17′38″N 122°27′21″W / 38.29389°N 122.45583°W / 38.29389; -122.45583
English translation The Mission of Saint Francis Solanus of Sonoma
Patron Saint Francis Solanus of Montilla, Spain
Nickname(s) "Sonoma Mission"
Founding date July 4, 1823 [1]
Founding Order Twenty-First
Baptisms 1,008[2]
Marriages 263[2]
Burials 500[2]
Neophyte population 996[2]
Governing body California Department of Parks and Recreation
California Historical Landmark
CHISL # #3

Mission San Francisco Solano was the 21st, last and northernmost mission in Alta California.[3] It was the only mission built in Alta California after Mexico gained independence from Spain and its beginning demonstrates the confusion resulting from that change in governance. The California Governor wanted a robust Mexican presence north of the San Francisco Bay to keep the Russians who had established Fort Ross on the Pacific coast from moving inland. A Franciscan friar from Mission San Francisco de Asis wanted to move to a location with a better climate and access to a larger number of potential converts.[4]

The Mission was successful given its short eleven year life but was smaller in number of converts and with lower productivity and diversity of industries than the older California missions.[5]

The Mission today

The mission building is now part of the Sonoma State Historic Park and is located in the city of Sonoma, California.


Fr. Jose Altimira, age 33, arrived from Barcelona, Spain to serve at Mission San Francisco de Asís in 1820.[6] The mission was not thriving because of its climate and had established a medical asistencia ("sub-mission") in San Rafael to help the mission’s ill neophytes (Native Americans) recover their health.[7] California Governor Luis Argüello was interested in blocking the Russians at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross from moving further inland. Together they developed and presented to the church authorities and the territorial diputacion (legislature) a plan for moving Mission San Francisco de Asís and the San Rafael asistencia to a new location north of the Bay. The legislature approved and the church authorities did not respond (but did forward the plan to their superiors in Mexico).[8] Under the old Spanish regime founding a new mission required the approval of both the Bishop and the King’s viceroy.[9]

Beginning in 1823, while waiting for a response from the church authorities, Fr. Altimira with military escorts began exploring north of the Bay for a suitable mission site. On July 4, 1823 the soldiers placed a large redwood cross on the place where they expected the ‘new’ Mission San Francisco de Asis to be established in the Sonoma Valley and then mass was celebrated. The group then returned south to begin gathering men and materials to begin construction.[10]

The area around the selected site was not empty. The territory of the Coast Miwok was to the west, Southern Pomo to the north, Wappo and Patwin groups to the east.[11] A detachment of soldiers from the Presidio of San Francisco would be provided to protect the Mission and guard the neophytes.[12]

Altimira with a detachment soldiers and a group of neophytes (mission Indians) from Mission San Francisco de Asís returned to the Sonoma area near the end of August but decided to begin building on the other side of the valley. He soon received a letter from Father President Sarria who refused Altimira permission to continue building. Fr. Altimira obeyed and the month of September saw continuing negotiations between California’s civil and religious leaders. On September 30th an agreement was reached: a new mission could be built and Fr. Altimira would be its minister but Mission San Francisco de Asís would not be closed and the San Rafael asistencia had already been designated as a full mission (Mission San Rafael Arcángel).[13]

Stylized portrayal of the Mission

Beginning in October, 1823 Fr. Altimira had the opportunity to build his new mission at the location he chose but the agreement with the Father-President meant the Mission needed a different patron saint. Altimira chose San Francisco Solano, a 17th century Franciscan missionary to South America.[14] His company of soldiers and neophytes set about building all the facilities needed in a California mission. His annual report for 1823 listed no baptisms, one marriage, one funeral, a population of 482 Indians (all transferred from other missions) and 1341 animals.[15] The work had started too late in the year for anything to be planted and harvested.

The Mission continued to develop until an argument arose about the sharing of the 1826 harvest. Indians, not living at the Mission, were unhappy with the amount allocated for their work and burned some of the wooden buildings in protest. Fr. Altimira with a few faithful neophytes fled to Mission San Rafael Arcángel.[16]

Fr. Buenaventura Fortuny, an aging Spanish Franciscan who had been working at Mission San Jose, was assigned to replace Altimira.[17] Fr. Fortuny quickly reestablished order and morale and the work of building the mission continued. Its main buildings were arranged around a large, square enclosure. By 1832 the mission had 27 rooms in the convento or priest's quarters, with a great adobe church at the east end, and a wooden storehouse (the original mission chapel) at the west end. Completing this enclosure were workshops where the Indians were taught to be craftsmen and created the items needed to help the mission be self-sufficient. Along the back of the courtyard were the living quarters and workrooms for the young Indian girls. In addition to the quadrangle, there were orchards, gardens, vineyards, fields of grain, a gristmill, houses for the soldiers and Indian families, a jail, a cemetery and an infirmary.[18]

Fanega Measure

The most successful year of this mission's short life span (11 years) was 1832. In his annual report for that year, Fr. Fortuny recorded the following: 127 baptisms, 34 marriages and 70 deaths; a total of 996 neophytes; the livestock inventory accounted for 6,000 sheep and goats, 900 horses, 13 mules, 50 pigs and 3,500 head of cattle; 800 fanegas (a measure of volume somewhat variable but generally between 50-60 liters) of wheat, 1025 fanegas of barley, 3 fanegas of beans, 52 fanegas of peas, 300 fanegas of corn, 32 fanegas of beans, and 2 fanegas of garbanzos were harvested.[19]

Fr. Fortuny, having labored alone at this mission for 6 1/2 years, felt the need to transfer to another mission where the work load would be shared.[20] He was 58 years old when he was replaced by Fr. Jose Gutierrez a Mexican Franciscan friar. The Mexican government had in 1826 required that all the Spanish friars who would not pledge loyalty to Mexico leave. Fr. Fortuny had been exempted from this rule but all new churchmen would be required to take the pledge.[21]

In 1834 the Mexican Congress decided to close all of the missions in Mexico. Mission San Francisco Solano officially ceased to exist on November 3, 1834, when it was designated a First Class Parish. The Spanish missionaries were replaced by parish priests - Fr. Jose Quijas was assigned to Sonoma and San Rafael.[22]

Lt. Mariano Vallejo, Commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco, was ordered to Sonoma with his soldiers to oversee the closing of the mission. The soldiers were intended to maintain the barrier to Russian eastward expansion until the area could be populated with Mexican citizens.[23] Governor Figueroa issued a regulation on August 9, 1834 outlining the requirements for the distribution of property (land, cattle and equipment) to each mission’s neophytes. [24] There is dispute about how this regulation was implemented at Mission San Francisco Solano. In later years the government sent William Hartnell as Visitador General of the Missions to check compliance with the Regulation but Vallejo avoided responding - claiming he did not have time because of military affairs. No subsequent action was taken by the government.[25]

All the neophytes had been released from the Mission since there was no priest in residence. Fr. Quijas had moved to Mission San Rafael Arcángel after many disputes with Vallejo's subordinates in charge of secularization. A few former Mission Indians were on their allotted land with their cattle from the Mission (none of these small plots of land were permanently recorded) but most either returned to their former homes or worked on ranchos (including Vallejo's Petaluma Adobe) or as servants in Sonoma.[26]

Interior of Vallejo's Chapel

The mission buildings rapidly fell into disrepair. The town of Sonoma was growing and building materials were in great demand. Roof tiles, timbers and adobe bricks were salvaged from the mission. After the settlers had cannibalized the old buildings, nature began recycling the remnants.[27]

In 1841, Mariano Vallejo ordered a smaller church of adobe to be built in the location of the first wooden mission chapel. It replaced the large mission church which was rapidly deteriorating. It stood on the west end of the convento, so was often taken, in later years, to be a church of the old mission.[28]

In 1881, the church property was sold to a Sonoma businessman and a new parish church was built across town. At one time, the old adobe chapel was used as a warehouse. The convento may have been used as a winery.[29]

In 1903, the two remaining mission buildings were purchased by California Historic Landmarks League, and became part of the California Park System in 1906. By 1913, both had been reconstructed. After the 1940's, the former church and convento were remodeled along more authentic lines suited to exhibits devoted exclusively to mission history.[30]

Indian Memorial

Dedicated in 1999 the Sonoma Mission Indian Memorial honors the more than 800 native people (including over 200 children) who died while living and working at the Mission between 1824 and 1839. Their Christian names, as recorded by the priests in the Mission’s records, are inscribed on this granite memorial.[31] European diseases such as measles and smallpox, for which Native Americans had no inherited resistance, with the overcrowded and unhealthful living conditions at all California missions (especially for women and children) contributed to the high death rate.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yenne, p. 182
  2. ^ a b c d Krell, p. 315: as of December 31, 1832; information adapted from Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries of California. Mission Francisco Solano witnessed the fewest number of baptisms, marriages, and burials of any settlement in the Alta California chain.
  3. ^ Bancroft p. 496
  4. ^ Smilie p.1-12
  5. ^ Krell, p. 315
  6. ^ Geiger p. 7
  7. ^ Smilie p. 2
  8. ^ Bancroft p. 496-504
  9. ^ Geiger p.7
  10. ^ Smilie p. 5-15
  11. ^ S/PSHPA
  12. ^ Moriarty
  13. ^ Smilie p.16-18
  14. ^ Smilie p. 18
  15. ^ Informe, S.F. Solano, 1823, Santa Barbara Mission Archives
  16. ^ Geiger p. 9
  17. ^ Geiger p. 90
  18. ^ Smilie p. 29-38
  19. ^ Informe, S.F. Salano, 1832, Santa Barbara Mission Archives
  20. ^ Smilie p. 39
  21. ^ Geiger p. 90
  22. ^ Smilie p. 34
  23. ^ Smilie p. 50
  24. ^ Smilie p. 50
  25. ^ Hartnell p.83
  26. ^ Smilie p. 62
  27. ^ S/PSHPA
  28. ^ Smilie p. 73
  29. ^ S/PSHPA
  30. ^ S/PSHPA
  31. ^ Ortis
  32. ^ Lightfoot p. 76


  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1886). History of California Vol. II, 1801-1824. The History Company, San Francisco, CA. 
  • Forbes, Alexander (1839). California: A History of Upper and Lower California. Smith, Elder and Co., Cornhill, London. 
  • Geiger, Maynard (1969). Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California 1769-1848. The Huntington Library, San Morino, CA. 
  • Hartnell, William E. P. (2004). The Diary and Copybook for William E. P. Hartnell. Santa Clara, California: The California Mission Studies Association. 
  • Hittell, Theodore H. (1898). History of California, Volume I. N.J. Stone & Company, San Francisco, CA. 
  • Jones, Terry L. and Kathryn A. Klar (eds.) (2007). California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity. Altimira Press, Landham, MD. ISBN 0-7591-0872-2. 
  • Krell, Dorothy (ed.) (1979). The California Missions: A Pictorial History. Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA. ISBN 0-376-05172-8. 
  • Leffingwell, Randy (2005). California Missions and Presidios: The History & Beauty of the Spanish Missions. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. ISBN 0-89658-492-5. 
  • Lightfoot, Kent G. (2008). Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. University of California Press. ISBN 13: 978-0520249981 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  • Moriarty, James R (July 1967). "FATHER SERRA AND THE SOLDIERS". SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY. Volume 13 (Number 3). 
  • Nordlander, David J. (1994). For God & Tsar: A Brief History of Russian America 1741–1867. Alaska Natural History Association, Anchorage, AK. ISBN 0-930931-15-7. 
  • Ortis, Beverly R. (Summer 1997). "A Mission Indian Memorial". News from Native California 10 (4). 
  • Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA. ISBN 1-890771-13-9. 
  • Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA. ISBN 0-932653-30-8. 
  • Smilie, Robert A. (1975). The Sonoma Mission, San Francisco Solano de Sonoma: The Founding, Ruin and Restoration of California's 21st Mission. Valley Publishers, Fresno, CA. ISBN 0-913548-24-3. 
  • S/PSHPA - Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Parks Association. "Mission San Francisco Solano". Retrieved April 12, 2014. 
  • Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN 1-59223-319-8. 

External links[edit]